Review: The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris by Jenny Colgan

The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris (A Novel with Recipes) by [Colgan, Jenny]

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As dawn breaks over the Pont Neuf, and the cobbled alleyways of Paris come to life, Anna Trent is already awake and at work; mixing and stirring the finest, smoothest, richest chocolate; made entirely by hand, it is sold to the grandes dames of Paris. 

It’s a huge shift from the chocolate factory she worked in at home in the north of England. But when an accident changed everything, Anna was thrown back in touch with her French teacher, Claire, who offered her the chance of a lifetime — to work in Paris with her former sweetheart, Thierry, a master chocolatier. 

With old wounds about to be uncovered and healed, Anna is set to discover more about real chocolate — and herself — than she ever dreamed.

Review. Text on the string. Conceptual 3d image

Source: NetGalley and Sphere          Rating: 2½/5 stars

On the surface, The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris is exactly the kind of book I was going to dive into and not come out of until the very least page.  On the surface, what’s not to love?  A chocolate shop, wonderful descriptions of delightful sweets, a woman trying to get her life back on track following a strange but true accident, and the sites and scenery of Paris. 

As I dove into the book, I found a very different book than I expected, and I can’t say I was at all thrilled with what I found.  I am the type of reader who loves good, strong, interesting, and full-bodied characters and when they work, they can carry a weaker plot, but when they don’t work, they take a good book and just sink it.  Unfortunately, the latter and not the former is what I found with The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris.

 Character breakdown:

Alice: Likely the most horrible character in the book!  From start to finish, Alice is a tremendous terror with nothing in her blood but spite and anger.  Alice is only ever concerned with her own life, her own well-being, and her own wants and desires.  She is selfish beyond belief and has not one single redeeming quality.  I found every scene and every encounter with her to be absolutely painful. 

Anna: This is the one character I genuinely liked in this book.  Anna has had a rough go of life of late and Paris and the chocolate shop is her chance to alter the course of her life.  From the moment she arrives in Paris, Anna is faced with uncertainty and difficulties in every aspect of her life.  The chocolate shop isn’t at all what she expected, her work hours make a social life difficult, and the people she is surrounded with are unpredictable and often difficult.  What sets Anna apart from the rest of the characters is her resilience, her kindness, and determination to live her life in a way that makes her truly happy and not just content.

Claire: I feel bad disliking a character who is dying, but Claire made it difficult to like and sympathize with her.  Though I know and understand Claire’s intentions toward Anna came from a good place, they also came from a selfish place.  Claire has spent her life always wanting something she once had but lost.  In all the years since she left Paris (as a teenager!), Claire has never been able to move forward, to appreciate the love and people she had in her life.  In essence, Claire has lived a sad life of her own making thanks to her inability to let go of the past and focus on the good in the present.

Laurent:  Meet the man-child of the bunch!  Laurent and his father have creative difference where their chocolate making is concerned and unfortunately, those creative differences (and ALICE!) have driven a wedge between them.  Like Claire, Laurent can’t seem to let go of the past nor can he let go of petty grievances.  His general attitude toward his father, Alice (she deserves it!), and people in general is one of indifference and if their presence in his life doesn’t help him, they likely aren’t worth his time or energy and when things don’t go his way, he tends towards a fit.  Man. Child.

Thierry: Because of his generally affable nature, Thierry is a man I desperately wanted to like, but just could not, in the end.  Thierry has spent his life, his entire life, pursuing his own interests and appetites with little interest in how his actions and pursuits have consequences for not only himself but others.  While Thierry’s attitude towards life has always been happy-go-lucky, his attitude towards his work has been single-minded, focused, and uncompromising.  Thierry wants only to produce the best chocolate and his reputation certainly reflects his passion.  What most don’t know is how his uncompromising nature has caused tension between he and his son and ruined nearly every relationship he has ever had.

The Bottom Line: I liked the premise of this book, I really liked the descriptions of the food and sweets, but all that cancelled out by truly disagreeable characters.  What’s more, I found the shifts between the past and the present to be abrupt rather than smooth transitions.  Though I never gave up on this book, I found it difficult to get through and I think I stayed with it simply because of the author and other books of hers I have quite liked.  As with every accomplished and long-running author, not every book is a winner for every reader, and The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris is that book for me.

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